Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quantum Computing

I still subscribe to some DTMs, (dead tree magazines) and every so often they pile up and I go back though and check them for missed articles, then off to the recycler they go.  Well I ran across an article in The New Yorker that described quantum computing.  What?  Quantum computing!  Never heard of it. 
Unfortunately, unless you are a subscriber to The New Yorker or have a nearby library that retains old periodicals, you will not be able to read this article, they did not post it on their open webpage, which is truly a shame, it is a really good article.  (You can buy digital access to the article from The New Yorker for one year for $5.99, but Hmmmm?  OK I liked the article but is it worth six bucks?) Why don't they keep the good articles on the open webpage and only throw the fashion and the arts articles on the subscriber's
May 2, 2011 Issue

Actually the only reason why I am posting this is so that I could in good faith include the cover image, it is so cool, but hopefully not all that true.  I am sort of hoping that Kate and Will tell the family to go bugger off.  Alas I stray, but I do love this cover.  

The article at hand is:

The above link will take you to an abstract.  If you are a subscriber, you can click into their online archive, or, if not a subscriber, you can click to buy access to the article.  Again $6 for a general info article seems a bit stiff.  Damn I wished they had it on the open site!

So what the hell is a quantum computer?  Well first it may be helpful to know what a normal digital computer is.  Deep in the bowels, of the contraption on which you are reading this post, are a vast collection of transistors which are grouped to form packets of data called bytes, which is the basic unit of information in our digital world. Each byte is 8 transistors laid out in parallel.  Ohhhh this is sounding complicated.  Not really, well not just can't get too complicated, because I am too damned dumb.  Each transistor acts simply as a switch that can be turned on or off very easily.  It is nothing more than the light switch in your house, except instead of using your fingers to turn it off or on, you use a small voltage.  Transistors are very small, very fast, and don’t consume a lot of power.  So the transistor is either OFF equating to a Binary digIT of zero, or ON equating to a Binary digIT of one.  So what do we mean by Binary digIT.  The famous BIT.  Again the best way to understand this is to think of something more familiar.  Think of the odometer in your car, the old kind that was a series of rotating drums with the numerals 0 to 9 painted on each one (to keep it simple, forget about the tenths off to the right side).  Each drum is a decimal digit.  Hmmmm. Decimal digit?  It works in the same number system, base 10, that we humans work in, something to do with 10 fingers perhaps.  So the odometer in your car is a base 10 register that can indicate any combination of numbers from 00000 to 99999.  Each one of its digits can be anything from 0 to 9, so each digit has 10 possible states, and the entire register has 100,000 possible combinations...00,000 to 99,999.  

You could have a base 10 computer, but it would require a switch with 10 distinct states providing 10 discrete signal levels.  That gets complicated real quick.  If you are working with electricity, what can be more simple than ON or OFF?  So what you do is change your number system from base 10 to base 2, the binary number system.  The binary system only uses two numerals, one and zero. which conveniently equates to the ON and OFF of the transistor!  A byte of memory is simply 8 transistors laid side by side and each transistor can either be a one or a zero.  So lets count in binary.  Note I put a space between 4 digits to make it a bit easier to see.

0        0000 0000
1        0000 0001
2        0000 0010
3        0000 0011
4        0000 0100
5        0000 0101
6        0000 0110
7        0000 0111
8        0000 1000
9        0000 1001
10   0000 1010
11   0000 1011
12   0000 1100
13   0000 1101
14   0000 1110
15   0000 1111
16   0001 0000

On up it goes all the way  to 1111 1111 which equals a equivalent to a decimal 255.  So an 8 bit binary register (one byte) can represent 256 combinations 0000 0000  to 1111 1111.  One byte of memory certainly can not hold very much information, but the magic is that it can be rapidly stored, manipulated, and retrieved.  The operating system and the various programs assign different meanings to the byte of data, and handles multiple bytes in parallel operations.  So even though one byte can only be a series of ones or zeros, the computer can use the byte to store part of a number, a letter, a shade gradient in a photograph or part of the address to another byte of memory that contains something relevant to the task at hand. 

So our standard binary computer is nothing but a collection of transistors, or magnetic blips on a hard drive surface, or chinks burnt into the surface of CD or DVD.  No matter what it is, the basic unit is ON or OFF, one or zero, stored in a parallel packet of eight bits, called a byte.   

So what is a quantum computer?  Instead of using transistors which are relatively big and power hungry, you use an element from quantum mechanics, the physics of the tiny world on the other side of Alice’s looking glass. We are talking sub-atomic particles--very tiny!   Why would we want to replace a good old transistor computer with a quantum computer?  Well to borrow a few reasons from the article:

"With one millionth of the hardware of an ordinary laptop, a quantum computer could store as many bits of information as there are particles in the universe." 

"To factor a number of two hundred digits or more would take a regular computer many lifetimes…With Shor’s algorithm (for finding prime factors of huge numbers) , calculations that would take a normal computer longer than the history of the universe would take a sufficiently powerful quantum computer an afternoon." 

So in a quantum computer, the transistor (giving the bit, the zero or one, OFF or ON) is replaced by some quantum particle and yields what is known as the Qbit (for quantum bit).  A Qbit can be zero, it can be one, or it can be both! A property known as superposition.   Both! How can it be both?  Well to understand that, which we ordinary folks with classical brains, will never be able to do, it may help to think about cats.  CATS!  Yes cats. 

Typical classical cats that live in our world, the big everyday world where the sun comes up and goes down and computers use transistors, can be in one of two states: alive or dead.  So like a transistor, the cat has two states alive, a digital one, or dead, a digital zero.  (OK, I know unlike transistors, cats when dead remain dead, but let’s not confuse the issue.)  A quantum cat however is both live and dead!  About now you are thinking that I have lost my mind.  Well in this stuff, I ain’t smart enough to lose my mind, so all I can do is tell you what the smart guys say. 
 Erwin Schrödinger

One of those smart guys was physicist who did a lot of work with quantum mechanics back in the 1930s and he found that some of properties of quantum mechanics to be troubling.  Certain aspects of quantum mechanics exists as probabilities rather than hard fast facts.  So in a quantum system of two states, will the photon be absorbed or reflected, both states exist simultaneously until someone observes the action.  Erwin Schrödinger found this a bit hard to swallow and he posed this thought experiment. 

In Schrödinger’s own words from Wikipedia:  
"One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of the hour, one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter’s tube discharges, and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed.  The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.
Wanted Dead Or Alive,  Schrödinger's Cat 

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks."

Note!  This is a thought experiment.  No cats were actually harmed by this experiment.

So poor old Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive until we come along, open the box and observe the condition of the cat.  As soon as we do so, we collapse the quantum wave form and the hard reality of either a dead cat or a live cat presents it self.  Yes, Schrödinger was trying to show this as an absurd paradox.  In our world perhaps, but not in the world of quantum mechanics.  This is a well established theory, and the quantum computers not only will use this property, but the existing quantum computers already do use it.

Existing quantum computers?  Yep!  There is a two Qbit machine at Yale and an 8 Qbit machine in Oxford.  But get this, an outfit called D-Wave Systems sold a 128 Qbit computer to Martin Marietta Corporation.

All you need is a cool $10 million, 10 cubic meters of space that your not doing anything with, and a bunch of really smart people to run the damn thing.  For now, keep your Facebook page up to date on your old Dell. 

There may be something a little fishy about this whole D-Wave enterprise.   Cold fusion, comes to mind.  There seems to be a number of nay-sayers about what D-Wave really has.  I ain’t smart enough to say one way or another, but some folks are asking serious questions about how this computer runs.  I would like to think that Martin Marietta would know what their doing, so let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  But from what I have read, D-Wave’s claims of having a true quantum computer are questionable. 

But getting back to our Q-bits.  This indeterminate state of the bits, this superposition, is part of the power of the computer.  The only trouble is, you can’t look at a calculation in progress.  Like a shy newly wed couple, the hanky panky must go on in the dark, unobserved. Why?  The wave form collapses when observed, ergo the computer halts the calculation before it is done.  Cool.  But here is another problem, the Qbits are quite delicate.  The slightest interference from the outside world can knock them awry.  It helps if you keep them really cold and really isolated from the rest of the world.  A little hunk of dust or zap of RF can throw your Qbits into oblivion.  So yes with one millionth of the hardware of a laptop, you can break every credit card security code on the face of the Earth in afternoon, you just need a big assed refrigerator, one that goes down to less than one degree Kelvin, and a lot of empty space. 
Graphic Representation of a Qbit

Now if you want to find out more about Qbits, read the following discussion.  This guy explains them using two pairs of polarized sunglasses and a pair of 3D movie glasses (the new ones, not the old red and blue jobs).  He does a very good job of explaining this.  Qbits are described in 3 axes, and the value must fall somewhere on a sphere surrounding those axes.  Yeah that don’t seem to difficult.  Then he says  “consider that single-qubit states can be represented by a point inside a sphere in 3-dimensional space. Two-qubit states, in comparison, need to be represented as a point in 15-dimensional space. Huhhh?   One can be mapped in sphere, but 2 require a 15 dimensional polyhedron?  Not 15 sides mind you, 15 dimensions, you know like up/down, left/right, in/out and 12 more.  You can visualize that. Well if you are a hell of lot smarter than me, this guy can help you understand how a Qbit works.  I found myself nodding my head saying Um Huh, Um Huh.  If you do that a lot, you can convince yourself that you are really smart enough to understand this crap.  

So these things are decidedly odd, yet wait, we haven’t talked about entanglement.  Take Schrödinger’s cat.  Get another identical cat & experimental apparatus 15 billion lights years away.  Run the experiment.  What happens to the cat on this side of the universe, happens to the cat on the other side, simultaneously, no need for worries about the speed limits from the velocity of light and all that relativistic nonsense.  Cat A does the same thing as Cat B.  Right now, same instant!  Cool, but how the hell does that work?  Beats the hell out of me.  But from our computer's point of view, some how you can use this entanglement to have all the Qbits work for you instantaneously.  

The Pride Of 1976, Not The Computer,
Seymour's Suit
What keeps them from becoming all 1s or all zeros is beyond me, but this entanglement is part of the promise of quantum computers.  Instant communication to all the Qbits.  Remember those old Cray super computers that was built in a semi-circle to keep the wire length and the bus transistion time down.  You know those slow old electrons that move almost the speed of light?  Not a problem here!  Instantaneous, well at least the Qbit portion of the machine.  

One other factor we must consider, before you decide to pony up that $10 million for a spiffy new D-Wave One to store your wedding photos and to hack into the NSA and see what’s up.  Decoherence!  Yes decoherence!  OH NO, NOT DECOHERENCE!   The wonder of the qbit is that the element is tiny, the spin on a single electron, or the magnetic brouhaha of an atom.  Ahhhh, but this cat is extremely delicate and short lived.  When the wave form collapses, the cat is either dead or alive but not both.  And if you didn’t get your calculation done before the box springs open and behold the cat!--well tough shit, you don’t have an answer.  This really is going to make dial up problematic.  So how long do you get before the Qbit decoheres?  One microsecond!  One millionth of second, then your computing elements turn to quantum mush.  Oh sure you can fire them back up again, but you still must get your calculation done in less than a millionth of second.  Partial results are not permitted.   
David Deutsch

So what is going on here?  Again it beats the hell out of me.  Who thought this crap up?  A guy named David Deutsch.  

Why did he think it up?  Well not because he wanted to check his friends in Facebook faster.  He thought it up because some guy from IBM asked him how to do some idealized comparison of the speed of computers.  Deutch told him not to bother, there is no ideal Turing machine, the perfect computer.  The guy said sure there is.  Physics.  Physics is the ideal Turing machine.  Deutch thought about this and then wrote a paper.  Physics is the ideal Turing machine, but not classical physics, Newton’s Laws and all that.  It has to be quantum physics.  Quantum physics can provide the ideal perfect computer. 

OK, so you think things have been weird, with dead and live cats at the same time, and cats acting over steller distances instantaneously?  Well it is going to get a whole lot weirder!  Deutsch is a many world theorist.  Does he give a damn whether Google can reverse ID an image in a second, or someone can factor a 500 digit number in an hour?  No!  Deutsch is using the quantum computer as a thought experiment proof for the many worlds theory.  Many worlds theory? 

Well there is this thorny problem with the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, this Schrodinger cat superposition about how something can exist in two paradoxical states at the same time.  So how do you solve this problem?   Simple!  Everytime a quantum event occurs the universe splits, one has a live cat, one has a dead cat.  Flip a coin, bingo two new universes, one heads one tales.  This is the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics theorized by Hugh Everett in 1957.  

 Roll the dice, tadah!  Thirty six new universes, one for each combination.  Trying to conceive?  Ahhh don't worry about it. Have a little fun, and then just make sure you pop into one of the half a billion new universes, each with a different baby!  There is only one without a baby, your chances are a half billion to one!  Hmmm!  It don't seem to work that way.  OK that’s stretching it, and I am not sure sex or rolling dice qualifies as a quantum event.  But if those examples seem ridiculous, consider how many quantum events are taking place through out our universe every moment (and quantum moment is quite short—a thing called a jiffy about 5.4 × 10−44 seconds) and by God you got a universe assembly line that Henry Ford would have been proud of.  Now bear in mind all these other universes continue to split on and on they go.  In the time it takes you to read the word “jiffy” the umpteen bazillion infinities of ever splitting infinite universes became the X times umpteen bazillion infinities of more infinite splitting universes.  Personally, I give this theory about 22 bazzilion orders of magnitude  less of chance of being correct than astrology.  And believe me I think astrology is pure hogwash.  But hey!  I am stupid!  Ergo it very may well be true.  There is no doubt in Deutsch’s mind, and he is pretty damn smart.  Many worlds is a valid theory, not a vastly popular one, but valid.  A lot of smart people believe it.  A lot of smart people and one stupid one don’t believe it.  And there are some other damned smart people who don’t give a shit either way.  All they want is a functioning quantum computer. 

But for Deutsch, the computer is a proof of this theory.  He said this regarding running Shor’s algorithm for factoring a huge numbers, quoted from The New Yorker article:

“When we run such an algorithm, countless instances of us are also running it in other universes.  The computer then differentiates some of those universes (by creating a superposition) and as a result they perform part of the computation on a huge variety of different inputs.  Later those values affect each other, and thereby all contribute to the final answer, in just such a way that the same answer appears in all the universes.”   

So here is his proof from his book The Fabric of Reality:

“To those who still cling to a single – universe world view, I issue this challenge: explain how Shors’ algorithm works.  I do not merely mean predict that it will work, which is merely a matter of solving a few uncontroversial equations.  I mean provide an explanation.  When Shor’s algorithm has factorized a number, using 10500 or so times the computational resources than can be seen to be present, where was the number factorized?  There are only about 1080  atoms in the entire visible universe, an utterly minuscule number compared with 10500 .  So if the visible universe were the extent of physical reality, physical reality would not even remotely contain the resources required to factorize such a large number. Who did factorize it then?  How, and where, was the computation performed?"

So what we are talking about here is parallel processing across parallel universes, because our universe don't have enough stuff in it to do the calculation.  Cool! Yeah, its easy to prove parallel universes on a machine that doesn't exist with an algorithm that may or may not work. Well actually it is not, but it is one thing to claim it and quite another to do it. So when you guys get the machine built and start factoring some really huge numbers, maybe I will believe it then, but probably not.  I am not going to hold my breath waiting. 

And what about the small quantum computers?  The 2 or 8 Qbit machines actually working now, not to mention the D-Wave 128 Qbit machine?  Are they running in parallel universes as well?  Sure they are little but if the big guys have to do it, should not the little ones be able to do it?  And how would we know?  Shouldn’t we be able to somehow worm hole over to one of these other universes?  Perhaps use Q-Twitter to have a chat with the you from yesterday who split out 18 bazzillion splits ago.  It all sounds a little out of this world to me.

EDIT 7-2-2011:  Browsing about looking for information on my next post I ran into this tidbit:

"Haggar Physicists Develop ‘Quantum Slacks,’ ” read a headline in the satirical weekly the Onion. By exploiting a bizarre  “Schrödinger’s Pants” duality, the article explained, these non-Newtonian pants could paradoxically behave like formal wear and casual wear at the same time. Onion writers were apparently spoofing the breathless articles about quantum computing that have filled the popular science press for a decade."
The problem with quantum slacks is that they would be subject to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle where you can know either the position of the pants or the velocity of the pants but not both--because both quantities do not exist simultaneously in nature. Hence trying to put the pants on would be a real pain in the ass.  If you knew for a moment (just a quantum moment BTW)  where the pants are, you would not know how to grab them because you would have no idea how fast and what direction they are traveling, and if you knew how fast they are traveling you wouldn't know where to grab them.  Ergo I respectfully submit quantum slacks to be impractical and would suggest to the reader to simply wear blue jeans. Failing in that then one must still purchase a pair of classical formal slacks and a pair of classical casual slacks if he every actually intends to wear the slacks. But I digress.  Here is an interesting article that may put some of this wackiness into a better perspective:

And if you read the above article and think you are feeling your intellectual oats, here is the author of the above article's blog.  I now realize that I am far more vastly stupid than my initial assessment at the beginning of this post would suggest:

Shtetl-Optimized, The Blog of Scott Aaronson

And here is an hour and ten minute lecture that Aaronson gave at Carnegie-Mellon University:

YouTube, Quantum Computing and the Limits of the Efficiently Computable - 2011 Buhl Lecture

Schrödinger and the Cat Diagram:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Tough Old Tree of Treachery

Last evening  my brother-in-law, the naturalist, and I went for a walk in the woods that bordered our suburban neighborhood when we were kids.  He and I spent a lot time in these woods when we were growing up.  He was into nature and adventure, and I was just into adventure.  We camped out, smoked cigarettes (but nothing worse), had moldy collections of Playboys in various waterlogged caches, collected butterflies, shot our bows and pellet guns (but not at the Union Railroad), stole wild strawberries from said railroad growing at a safe distance from their tracks but technically on their property and ran away from the bulls, built fires, made camps, studied birds, climbed trees, raised hell and contemplated life, well actually sex--we knew it had to be really cool.  Little did either of us realize at the time that some day in the future I would be regularly engaged in such practices with his younger sister--frankly I would have not believed it possible at the time.  Hmmmm!  Little sisters grow-up to be rather luscious just have to wait a bit.  Anyhow some of his love for nature rubbed off on me, but only some, I have never embraced nature like he did.  So our goal yesterday was to find a hop horn beam tree that we both remembered grew near one of our camps.  Alas we did not find it, but we got up high on the hill where we don't normally roam and it was magnificent.  Huge lovely trees.  Although I had my camera, I didn't take any pictures.  My brother-in-law would have little patience with my 50 shots per object that I normally take.  Anyhow our walk reminded me that I had walked down there last week and took some photos.  I am not real happy with these pictures, but I would like to share one.

The Tough Old Tree of Treachery

The old sugar maple in the center of this photo has a history for me.  In the summer of 1958 or 1959, someone got the brilliant idea that  another street could be built in our plan.  A bulldozer was dispatched and for about a month it went around and knocked down all the trees in upper section of our woods.  After knocking down the preponderance of the trees, the would be developer found out two interesting facts.  1) The sewage plant for our community was undersized for the existing homes.  A new street would require upgrading the plant.  2)  The new street would be built in an area rife with old coal mines and very susceptible to mine subsidence and sink holes.  The bulldozer packed up and was never seen again.  The knocked down trees were left to rot.

I was fascinated with the bulldozer and become buddies with the operator, and in a time when adults were always addressed as  Mr. Jones or Mrs Smith, this guy was just Lou.  Wow.  Here is this important man! A grown up! Running a bulldozer! And I could call him Lou!  Lou had a gallon jug for water and I would take it down to the house and fill it up for him. My mother spotted me filling the jug from the garden hose and asked what was I doing.  I told her, and I guess she figured that this guy was keeping her kid entertained and out of her hair.  So she took up to making iced tea or Rheemer's Blend for Lou in the morning and putting it in a couple of capped mason jars.  So every day at lunch time I would take the mason jars of cold refreshment out to the bulldozer.  At two thirty the ice cream man would come down the street.  Lou would stop the bulldozer give me 50 cents and I would go fetch us each a goody bar or popsicle.  I only needed 20 or 30 cents depending on what we got, but Lou always gave me 2 quarters.  Keep the change. He gave me lessons on how the steering clutches and brakes worked and what all the neat levers did.  I never got a ride on the dozer though, a disappointment, but Lou was smart.  This was the late 50s, there must have been 2 billion kids in the neighborhood, if Lou gave me a ride, then tomorrow there would be a crowd of grimey street urchins wanting a ride.

Anyhow Lou managed to knock down all the trees except this big old sugar maple.  He worked on it for a couple of days.  He pushed up a ramp of soil so the blade would hit the tree higher in the trunk  Then he would back up the hill and come down full tilt, race up the ramp, and bash into the tree.  He couldn't budge it.   If you look at the base of the tree to the right, you can still see the remanent of the ramp.  BTW, for those of us who have a hankering for orange, the bulldozer was an Allis Chalmers and looked very much like this one (except it had blade).  I even remember the AC diamond logo on the side of the engine shroud.

This tree couldn't be knocked down because it is my shrine commemorating both the un-trustworthiness and the ferocity of  the female of the species.  Ahhhh! I learned these lessons early in life when I was either 6 or 7 years old, several years before the bulldozer came.  Long before I was friends with my brother-in-law, I was friends with a kid who lived on the same street as me, a couple houses up.  He was two years older than me and was a wisenheimer as my father called him.  He had a propensity for getting into trouble and taking me with him, although in this case I must share the guilt.

How to get a wheelbarrow from downtown to Mt. Washington

His father had a big heavy screen set up in a frame under this tree.  He would sift topsoil through the screen into his wheel barrow and wheel it up to his house--a trip that would kill me if I attempted it now.  That Second World War generation was tough when it come to wheel barrows. Back in the early 50s before we had moved and before my father owned a car, he bought a heavy construction grade wheel barrow from Sears on the North Side of Pittsburgh.  He wheeled the thing by hand from North Side, across one of the bridges spanning the Allegheny, pushed it through downtown Pittsburgh, across one of the bridges spanning the Mon and somehow got it on one of the inclines and pushed it to our house in Mount Washington, a distance of a little over 2 miles.

My Father's Wheel Barrow Trip Circa 1950
Click To View Full Size

Anyhow, this kid's father had this little clearing with the sifter conveniently located about 100 yards into the woods, well out of sight of any of the houses.  So this kid negotiates with a group of the young ladies in the neighborhood, he and I will do a strip tease for the girls,  providing they would reciprocate.  OK, but you guys go first. OK  So we are singing some sort of ditty (probably All the girls France, they don't wear no underpants)  and stripped right down to the bare essentials and did a dance emphasizing how the plumbing down there could sway to the music.  This was full frontal nudity,  no fooling around.  Well the first day we produced our half of the bargain, but the girls gave us some line of bullshit that it was too close to supper time...bla, bla, and they would live up to their end of the bargain tomorrow.  Now these young ladies were 2 or 3 years older than me, so I was looking forward with great curiosity to see the secrets of the female form.  So the next day, after more negotiations, we reconvened around the sifter right after lunch. One of the girls brought her four year old sister along.  What's this crap?  So my buddy and I are ready for our show.  Well you guys were so good, let's have an encore.  Sure, we are old school burlesque dancers by now, all modesty went out the window yesterday.  So we sing our little song and strip down again.  So there we are stark naked and we are getting a little impatient and apparently a little loud.   We lived up to our end of the bargain.  Now what about you girls?   Time to show us the goods!  Yeah and we are getting a bit excited about it.  Probably even got into a bit of a chant to encourage them.  So here are these lovely 10 year old girls, hell damn near adults to a 7 year old, and I am licking my chops to see just what do they have down there.  Its gotta to be really cool or there wouldn't be all this fuss about clothes.

Well the one girl grabs her little sister, bends her over and puts her in a head lock.  She then aims the little sister's behind at us and the other girl pulls down the tot's shorts.  So we got to see this 4 year old's bum.  We start, still naked, raising hell, no fair! We know what bums look like.  We want to see the front!  No way!  C'mon no fair!  We are showing you our weiners,  we didn't come down here to see a 4 year old's bum.  Cheaters!  Strip off the clothes ladies!  All of sudden the pants get hauled  back up on the 4 year old and the girls get real quiet, me and my buddy are still raising hell about the breach of contract.  The girls eyes are as big as saucers, my mouth is shouting "cheaters" but alarms bells are starting to go off in my head, something is amiss.  I suddenly hear my name spoken from behind me.  I turn around and behold!  My mother's best lady friend, Ann, that lived at the bottom of the street.  Oh shit!  She told us to put on our clothes and for every one to go home.  Well kid world being what it was, I managed to avoid home until supper time. At supper time you better be home or else.  I considered my options.  I could run away.  Become a hobo, ride the rails. Supper time is here, I balked.  Why should one willing walk to his own execution?  Hell, I may as well go out and start digging a grave in the backyard.  My father stuck his head out the door and gave one of his two fingered whistles that could be heard all over Allegheny County.  There was no excuse for not responding to "the whistle".  I walked in the house expecting all hell to break loose.  My mother scanned my face and I suddenly realized that she did not know.  Quick, turn off the sheepish shit before you give yourself away.  We ate supper and life went on as normal.  My mother finished the dishes and said "I am going down to Ann's, I 'll be back in hour to give you your bath."  Oh shit.  I am hanging out in the front yard to keep an eye on the action, why I am not sure.  What the hell am I going to do by watching?

I hope and pray that Ann can keep her mouth shut. Maybe she forgot.  Maybe its no big deal.  Maybe she is really cool.  She didn't holler at us, or give that crap that adults always give kids about knowing better.  Maybe she likes being naked, like those ladies that are on the front of the paperback books in the drugstore, all you could ever see on them were their backs and the tops of their bums, but they were naked.   Yeah, that's it, she likes being naked, thats why she didn't call.  I hope and pray, Oh Dear God Let Ann Like Being Naked, she will understand then.

Well I believe in retrospect that Ann did like to be naked sometimes, she had two kids then and eventually four.  But alas, Ann did not forget, and perhaps while she liked to be naked, she didn't like us boys being naked that much.  Well she had a daughter after all. My mother is down at Ann's for about 10 minutes, and then she comes up the street like an enraged bull. I see her coming and I start to bail out--an admission of guilt before the trial--not that there will be any trial, and she yells at me to stay put.  She comes flying up the front steps, hauls both my wrists over my head and hauls down my pants right there in the front yard and starts beating my bare ass with her bare hand. "So you little son of bitch, you want to show your ass off to the girls, here let me help you!"  She is speaking about God and Jesus and something about the next time I show my ass off it is going to be as bright red as a babboon's ass.  Either her hand must of got sore, or she became dimly aware of the grand expose to which  she was treating kid world at both of our expense.  She then drags me into the house, with my pants still around my knees, into the kitchen past my amazed father who quickly returned to his paper.  We went to the drawer the where the GI belt is kept.  The drawer flied open with about 7 Gs of accelleration.  The flashlight, knife sharpener, scissors, screw driver, small tack hammer and pliers slamed with a loud crash into the drawer front. Out came the belt and it was applied generously to my bare ass with a string of profanity featuring God and Jesus and little sons of bitches showing off little bare asses and so forth.  And who catches you?  Ann!  For Christ sake, the whole god damned neighborhood knew about it before me, you little bastard....

Time dilated for me.  That ass beating had to last for several hours, but I am sure it was no longer than a few minutes. I am almost certain that I could have read the numbers on Eagleman's chronometers.  Boy was she pissed off.  So after the ass beating, I wasn't allowed outside for, oh hell I don't know 4 or 5 years, or so it seemed. That couldn't be right, but it seemed that way.  At least a couple of days anyhow.  You know that damned Ann could have kept her mouth shut. Or least she could have got on the phone and called my mother right away.  With several hours before supper, there may have been a cooling off period,  Nah, she had to dump it on her during a visit. Man, I can still see my mother coming up that street like a run-a-way freight train.

As I stood under the tree admiring its presence some 52 years after it was bashed by a bulldozer and some 55 years after my ass was bashed by an enraged woman, it all comes back.  The fun and excitement of taking off our clothes in front of the girls, the glorious expectation that we were going to get to see what's down there. The holy of holies for a young boy.  Hell we had no idea just how holy it was but we knew it had to be really neat.  Hair! It must be hair, that's what the song said.

"All the girls from France, they don't wear no underpants.  When you look down there all you see is lots of hair."

Perhaps you think I am damaged. Abused by a horrific prude of a mother.  It was just young children expressing their innate sexuality. There is nothing wrong with children having curiosity and acting on it.  Oh the misunderstandings of the 50s.  People could behave like savages with their children at times.

Oh bullshit!  We knew we were doing something wrong!  And we knew we would get our asses beat for it if caught. Yes, there is nothing wrong with children looking at each other's plumbing  But that's not how it played in the 50s and we knew it.  Sexuality was so cool back then because it was so forbidden.  We had a blast with it. I have fond memories of the whole thing including the ass beating.  Alas, another dozen years would go by before I really got to see what girls had down there, and by God, it was...really cool.  In a way, it was a shame it didn't happen under that tree, it would have been so appropriate.
The bulldozer could not knock down that tree.  It stands a monument to the treachery of lying women and ass beating mothers.  I regard it fondly every time I walk by.

Image Credits:

Allis Chalmers Advertisement:

Duquesne Incline:

Satellite Map:  Google Earth

Monday, June 13, 2011

100th Post And Fascinations By Becoming an Eagleman Groupie

This is my 100th post.  Not bad for a little under a year, my first post was dated July 5, 2010.  OK so what does that prove other than I share most of humanity's fascination with numbers that are divisible by 10?  Or am I fascinated by squares: 10 X 10? Or do I like numbers that work out nicely in scientific notation: 1 X 102 ?  Or perhaps ones that can be expressed in a common logarithm as a small integer: 2?  I think I just like zeros.  I don't see Google creating a Doodle in honor of my 100th post.

I think I am turning into a David Eagleman groupie.  This is the guy that has people fall 15 stories with a chronometer strapped to their wrist that flashes too fast to read the numbers. "Can you see the numbers?"


As I mentioned before due to certain aesthetic considerations, I have decided that this experiment is not for me.  However in a moment, we will find a link to an experiment that you can participate in from home that involves nothing more than about 20 minutes of your time and answering questions.

I started Eagleman's new book:

Incognito, The Secret Lives of The Brain 

I am only into the second chapter and I have half the book underlined.  Yes I am finding it rather fascinating.

So this morning rather than read the book like a normal person I start chasing down Eagleman on the net. That led to some pretty interesting web pages.   So let's Google David Eagleman.

Edit 6-20-2011:  Hit # 1.  This is a good site, that either cropped up after my original post, or I just didn't find. There are a lot of links to his books and articles.   There is an excellent video highlighting Eagleman's research:

Nova, Profile David Eagleman  

Hit # 2,  Eagleman Laboratory For Perception and Action.    This is the site that you want to check out.

Eagleman (far right) and his staff

Some very cool graphics, and jolly looking people (except the one guy in the back who is too cool for this sort of frivolity)!   I start looking about and bingo right from the get go I notice the blurb:

"We're running research on how jurors make decisions. Have 10 minutes and want to play juror?"

Well I would make that 20 minutes but I read the questions rather thoroughly and I am slow.  Here is your chance to participate in Eagleman's research and you don't have to free fall 15 stories.  They have some scary sounding legalize that you must consent to before you can start, but I am not sure why. You do not identify yourself or give your email address. You only answer general gender, age and level of education questions.   They present about 10 quicky trials with limited evidence, and ask you to vote guilty or not guilty based on the evidence presented. Then there are some general questions regarding your social beliefs and understanding of neuroscience. I enjoyed taking the survey.  You can find the research project here:

Hit # 3   Baylor College of Medicine, Research on Jury Decision Making

Do the research project first and then if you would like to find out more information on where Eagleman is going with this, read this article.

Hit # 4 Neuroscience And The Law

I would like to submit the following case for Eagleman's MRIs & fMRIs.  This article is about a female Los Angles police detective who almost got away with murder 25 years ago. 

Side Track  #1  The Atlantic, The Lazarus File

Assuming that she is guilty (the trial is in August) how do you handle a person (a police officer no less) who apparently viciously murdered a woman over jealousy and then goes on for the next 23 years to lead an exemplary career in the LAPD and a normal life?

Got a lot of time on your hands, its a long article, here is another case that I would like Eagleman to look at.  

Side Track # 2 The New Yorker, Trial By Fire

It will be impossible to perform any MRIs on this defendant.  He was convicted and executed.  I would like Eagleman to stick the heads of the members of the Texas Board of Pardons and members of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the MRIs and see what goes on in there.  Well this post has taken a darker twist than I originally intended.  

Getting back to Eagleman, his lab does a lot of work with the perception of time which is one my interests due to my clock speed slowing with MS.  Here is an interesting essay Eagleman wrote called Brain Time: 

Hit # 4 Eagleman Laboratory, Brain Time

I believe that my mind is becoming Googlized because looking at this essay presents two more links we should look at:

Side Track # 3 Amazon, Whats Next? Dispatches On The Future Of Science   Oh no, not another book for my reading list.  I should have retired 20 years ago.  I have a sweatshirt that states "So Many Books...So Little Time.  Its horrible, I don't have enough life left to read all the damned books that I want to read and more keep erupting out of the librasphere.

Side Track # 4  What is the ?

Oh good God, may the saints preserve me...

To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

Believe me, I have no business being in that room, but would I love to be there.  What a cool idea! And what company!  They have a matrix of contributors that is 13 columns by 48 rows.  I browsed through and most of the people I have never heard of but there were some old friends among the group. Bear in mind these people don't realize they are my friends but they are:      Noam Chomsky, Alan Guth, Benoit Mandelbrot, Dean Ornish,  Elaine Pagels, & the late Heinz Pagels,   Freeman Dyson, E.O. Wilson, Frank Tippler, Helen Fisher, Jared Diamond,  Jonah Leher, Lee Smolin, Lynn Margulis, Marvin Minsky, Natalie Angier,  Murray Gell-mann,  Paul Davies, Roger Penrose, Robert Sapolsky, Rupert Sheldrake, Sidney Coleman, Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Johnson,  Werner Heisenberg and of course my good new buddy David Eagleman.  Everyone of these people have not only helped me to understand the world better but usually entertained and fascinated me in the process.  The main feature of the site is called Conversations where some of these exceptional people get together and discuss some problem.  But they also have a what they call the Annual Question, which I thought was pretty cool.  They pose a question for the year and all these members provide a short essay like answer.

This year's question is:


So far they have 159 responses which you can read here:

Side Track # 5, Responses

I am now working on day three of this post and hope to get it done this month so that I can still make my claim of 100 posts in less than a year.  I got a little side tracked over at the Edge.  Some of the responses were quite good. I dare not go look at them again although my intention is to read one a day for the next 159 days. One guy said to have Occam's razor with Einstein's blade in it. Another guy said to be aware the tookkit is already full of garbage and to be cautious about adding new garbage.  This one may be worthy of a post.  Well they are all worthy of a post, but one has to pick and choose.  Anyhow, due to the fact that this is my blog and I will never be invited to the Edge, (I do not meet the physical requirements--a fully functioning brain that places your IQ in the stratosphere, or the social requirements--no one gives a shit what I think), I shall take this opportunity to provide my answer.

A Finely Tuned Bullshit Detector And A Missed Detail Klaxon
Sextant Professor Emeritus of The Henry The Navigator Chair, Navigating The Finite Institute, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania  

          Bullshit Detector:  Regardless of one's position in the political, religious, social, cultural, economic, and scientific spectrum, one has to realize that much of the information available today in the various media sources is a series of quick factoids presented in fleeting multi-media bursts.  By carefully selecting these factoids and releasing them in a skilled a fashion, a bullshitter can direct one to a desired conclusion that may be entirely false by providing snippets of "truth"...a bread crumb trail of truths leading to the land of bullshit.  One should also realize that in today's environment purveyors of truth are trampled by the financial and raw political power of the purveyors of opinion...those who state the "facts" that certain audiences want to hear.   

        One also has to be aware of the dazzle them with bullshit phenomena, a facet to which I am especially susceptible.  Put enough 50 cent words into an essay, write it in a diaphanous style that appeals to academia especially stating things as though it was obviously known by anyone familiar with the field, and slather a few PhD and Director of This, and throw in a few tony sounding Institutes and good old Sextant will be sitting in your lap purring like a kitten.  Then on Monday morning, he wakes up with an intellectual hangover and thinks you know I may have been bullshitted with all that fancy talk.  EMBRACE OBFUSCATION.  

        One also has to be careful when conducting research that one does not bullshit themselves with carefully crafted questions that can easily be manipulated with a computer to attain a desired result.  The world is not black and white.  Reasonable people live in shades of gray, and to paraphrase my dear friend Bertrand Russell (another guy that doesn't exactly realize that he is my friend) fools and fanatics live in black and white. Dr. Eagleman, be cautious. When someone as stupid as I am can detect a bias in the nature of your questions on the jury survey, you may want to re-evaluate your survey.  I agree with you and yet I felt manipulated by the questions.   Use care not to drive reasonable people out of the shades of gray and into either black or white. 

          Missed Detail Klaxon:  This is one that came to bite me in the ass numerous times in engineering.  You are doing something, designing a test facility, solving a murder, healing a patient, troubleshooting a failure, quoting a job, building a deck, researching a phenomenon, or planting a garden...anything that has some element of complexity.  THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS!  Remember that in bold caps.  In my experience in engineering, every time something came to bite me in the ass with a few exceptions, it was something that I had thought about but fell through the cracks.  Sometimes it was even something that gnawed away at me, repeatedly.  In a pit of venomous snakes, it is easy to miss the mosquito bite.  Sometimes the mosquito is carrying malaria.

        An example of things falling through the cracks.  In The Atlantic story above, The Lazarus File, the victim's father solved the crime within hours after it happened.  He mentioned to the investigating detective that the victim had had an altercation with a woman at the hospital that the victim worked at.  All that he knew was that the woman was a police officer.  This was in 1986.  It fell through the cracks, and it remained in the cracks even though the victim's father mentioned it several times throughout the life of the investigation.  Why did it fall through the cracks?  Altercation at work, hospital, woman, police officer.  Four somewhat odd facts that kind of stand out like a diamond in goat's ass.  Why an altercation at work?  Who was the woman?  A POLICE OFFICER!  Since when do women police officers go picking fights with other women in a hospital?  Didn't the husband know that his former girlfriend was a police officer?   Not only is the diamond in the goat's ass, but the goat is crying out in pain, and yet it fell through the cracks. How?  Because there was 37 acres of facts before investigating detective and most of them were covered with the beautiful green grass of a burglary gone awry .  In one 5 square foot section out on the periphery, a goat stood bleating, and no one heard it for 23 years.  Then suddenly "Hey! There is a goat over there with a diamond in its ass!"  One is tempted to believe that it was negligence on the part of the original detective, but I am almost sure that it is not.  It was simply a tree lost in the forest.  The devil is in the details and he has bit my ass numerous times, and some of those times I marveled at how damned obvious the problem was in retrospect.

EDIT 3-9-12: Stephanie Lazarus, 51, was found guilty of first degree murder for the 1986 killing of Sherri Rassmussen and faces sentencing of 25 years to life. 

Typical Results, Synesthesia Screening

I have to end this ambiguated (a new invented word apparently--disambiguated without the dis) post.  I am tired of writing it.  There is more over at Eagleman's site that deserves a look.  Eagleman is also studying synesthesia...the mixing of senses.  Some people experience letters, numerals, musical tones or dates with color.  I have even read of some people associating certain tastes or odors with musical notes.  Eagleman's site explains the phenomena and even offers screening tests that you can take.  Also Eagleman's site offers a wealth of links to his publications.

So what was the point of all this?  I am not sure.  Eagleman is a rather curious and fascinating fellow and I am enjoying his book even though it has led me on a wild goose chase through the Internet.  There are still several sites that I want to check out.

I have added about 5 books to my wish list yesterday and a couple of them I had to slap my hand to keep from buying.  It is terribly easy with a Kindle you know--just 1-click...and 60 seconds later, you are the proud owner of the book--no that is not correct, you don't own a Kindle book like you own a bound book, you are something of a right holder to one encoded copy of digital data that can only be unlocked with a Kindle or Kindle software.  I am going to1-Click myself into financial ruin, if I don't drive myself insane chasing all these links.  I need to go take a walk.

EDIT 6-17-2011:  Eagleman published an article in the latest issue of The Atlantic:

The Atlantic, July - August 2011, The Brain On Trial, David Eagleman

The article discusses the role that neurological issues can impact criminal behavior.  It has been adapted from material that appeared in Incognito.  It provides more insight on the jury research program that Eagleman is involved in.

EDIT 7-4-2011:  Here is a very good profile of David Eagleman:


I can't resist quoting this much out of the article:

" Are there any possibilities that scare Eagleman-the-scientist?
“I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and I sometimes feel like, oh my god, what if I’ve gone just a little too far?,” Eagleman says.“When you reach your arms down into it, sometimes I feel like I’m seeing the matrix in a sense. Oh my god, this is all a construction. So the same question that excites me [how does the brain construct reality?] can also scare the shit out of me a lot of times. Because it’s much more comfortable to imagine that you open your eyes, and the world is full of color and things just exist and time flows like a river. But when you start breaking all that down and seeing that it’s a construction of the brain, it’s kind of awful, I guess, because it makes you feel so alien to everything you’ve ever known and loved.”

On the question of the Soul:

“Does David Eagleman have a soul?” He pauses again.
“So, I can answer that in two ways. I can tell you from my internal experience, and from my scientific training. Internally, I have felt as I’ve gotten older that I am not the same as my body, despite all of the neuroscience. How do I put this? What’s clear is that I depend entirely on the integrity of my body. As things in my brain change—if I were to develop a tumor, for example—that could completely change who I am, how I think. So I’m somehow yoked to my brain in a very strong way, and the question for all of us is, are we yoked to it 100 percent or is there some other little bit going on? From the inside, I have an intuition that I’m not just equivalent to my body. That said, intuitions always prove to be a very poor judge of reality. So, if you ask me, ‘do I have a soul?’ I would say ‘you know, I kind of feel like there’s something about me that’s a little separate from the biology.’ But I have no evidence for that.”
I am developing a very deep respect for Eagleman, his humanity, his willingness to look beyond the cold facts of hard science, and his optimism.  The fact that he uses a bit of obscenity in his conversation helps as well!

Image Credits:  

All except Edge Logo & Buy with 1-Click:  Eagleman Laboratories 

Edge Logo:

"Buy with 1-Click":

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Most Popular Images On My Blog

If you look at the side bar of my blog you will see a Popular Posts list that shows the 10 most popular posts.  I use a site called StatCounter to show the hits on the blog.  Alas StatCounter indicates that few people read anything here, they just look at the pictures and are gone within generally less that 30 seconds.  So what are they looking at?  Listed roughly in the order of popularity are the images that people look at.

Note!  Click on the image to view full size. 

 Number 1!  This and the image below account for about 80% of the traffic on my blog.

St Teresa Of Avila

Number 2.

Number 3.  

Number 4.

Number 5.  For some reason this image is very popular in the Philippines. Perhaps a lot of medical schools?  

Number 6.  The next three images are all in the same post.  I don't know which is the most popular, so I simply list them here as they appear in the post.  These images are popular in Europe but oddly not England.

LST, I owe my existence to Winston Churchill
Number 7.

LST, I owe my existence to Winston Churchill

Number 8.

Number 9.

Feynman Doodles

Number 10.

Number 11.

Number 12.

Number 13.

Number 14.

Number 15.

The above image only recently displaced this image as # 15. 

Image Credits are available at the original posts given in the link next to the image.